Irwindale, CA, Nov. 27 - "Dominant" Dave Steele ruled the 63rd running of the USAC 100-lap "Mopar Turkey Night Midget Grand Prix" presented by Lucas Oil Thanksgiving evening at the banked half-mile Irwindale Speedway. The race marked the first ...
Irwindale, CA, Nov. 27 - "Dominant" Dave Steele ruled the 63rd running of the USAC 100-lap "Mopar Turkey Night Midget Grand Prix" presented by Lucas Oil Thanksgiving evening at the banked half-mile Irwindale Speedway. The race marked the first appearance of the new J. C. Agajanian Trophy, a perpetual trophy that carries plaques with the names of all winners of the classic event, and is named in honor of the man who revived the race in 1955.
Turkey Night GP 2001 winner Steele, from Tampa, took the lead on lap 10 and won by a commanding 6.134 seconds (a straight-away) before 4,990 spectators and a live Speed Channel national television audience. Steele promptly regained his straight-away advantage after all four cautions in the race that awarded both USAC National and Western States points.
Steele, 29, earned $6,000 from the Agajanian Promotions/Irwindale Speedway $33,000 Midget Division portion of the USAC triple-header racing event. As fastest qualifier in a 42 car field, Steele started sixth aboard a Dino Tomassi Mopar/Finish Line Towing Beast/Mopar. As expected, Steele recorded the fastest lap of the 35-minute race with a 16.916. He was so quick that only six drivers finished on the lead lap. Steele finished third in the same car in the 2002 Turkey Night GP.
Michael Lewis, the Turkey Night GP winner last year, started and finished second this year. He collected $3,200 as runner-up. Lewis drove the No. 40 Western Speed Racing/Team ASE/Red Line Oil Beast/Esslinger. It was the same car he drove to victory as No. 11 for car owner Phil Reed last year when it housed a Ford engine by Ed Pink.
Steve Paden, who clinched his first USAC W/S Midget driving championship at Tucson November 22, started and finished third in Richard Farrier's Esslinger Engineering Beast/Esslinger. The driver from nearby Bellflower trailed Steele by 6.907 seconds and collected $2,100. Teddy Beach, 19, started tenth in the 30-car field aboard his Beach Mfg Co Beast/Mopar and finished 11 seconds behind the winner. He earned $1,200.
J. J. Yeley, USAC's triple crown winner of all three 2003 national championships-Silver Crown, Sprint Car and Midgets-drove Steve Lewis' Team ASE Beast/Ed Pink Ford from 17th to finish fifth. He won $1,200. Yeley concluded his record-setting season with 24 USAC national series feature triumphs, which topped the former record of 19 co-held by A. J. Foyt, Sleepy Tripp and Jay Drake. Jerome Rodela, carrying a TV cage camera, crossed the finish line fourth, one second behind Paden. However, USAC officials disqualified his car because he bypassed the post-race technical inspection and drove directly to his pit. Rodela, the rookie of the race last year, said he didn't think he was in the top five
Pole starter and sixth quickest qualifier Bobby East (Lewis Team ASE Beast/Ed Pink Ford), Tracy Hines (Wilke Beast/Mopar), Cole Carter (Carter Beast/Ford), Josh Wise (Eric Wise Beast/Ed Pink Chevy) and Ryan Durst (Klatt/Durst Beast/ Pink) completed the top ten finishers. East was the last driver on the lead lap. Durst, the highest finishing of eight Turkey night GP rookies, won the Don Basile Memorial rookie of the race honor. Hines was credited with seventh position despite being spun out in the second turn by Yeley as Steele received the checkered flag from starter Tony Roberts. Matt Streeter also became involved and stopped next to Hines' damaged car.
Twenty of the 30 starters finished, with ten drivers down one lap and four drivers down two laps. Current NASCAR driver Jason Leffler, the 1999 Turkey Night GP winner in a Steve Lewis Beast/Ed Pink Ford, started fifth in Steele's identical team Beast/Mopar. Leffler was running third on lap 49 when a lapped car, driven by Garrett Hansen, came down on him in turn four, causing Leffler to spin into grass infield. His car was eliminated with suspension damage.
On lap 60 Steele was running 105-mph laps, four-mph faster than the next quickest driver. He had a 5.2-second lead by lap 70. Only eight cars remained on the lead lap following a lap 86-90 caution caused when Brad Kuhn spun out in the second turn. When racing resumed on lap 91 Steele had six lapped cars between him and second place Lewis. By lap 94, Steele had opened a 3.6- second advantage and a lap later he regained his straight-away cushion as Lewis also lapped the slower cars. Although only one lapped car remained between the two leaders at the finish, Lewis could barely see the fleet Steele a straight-away ahead of him. "He (Steele) was awesome. We're happy with second in the Midgets and first in the Sprints." Lewis told the crowd.
When asked to compare his two Turkey night Midget victories Steele said, "They're all good. Winning never gets old. It (his car) got a little tight at one point, but it was getting around the corners pretty good. I didn't know where them guys were. When you get a car working that good you've got to take advantage of it." Steele, who won Irwindale's opening night Midget feature in 1999, like second-place Lewis has enjoyed numerous past feature victories at Irwindale. Asked why he performs so well at Irwindale Steele stated, "Irwindale is one of the best tracks to race on, you can almost run 14 wide," he joked. "This track has grip that Tucson doesn't have," he added when informed Irwindale was patterned after the banked Arizona track.
Runner-up Lewis told the media, "My only chance of winning was if something on his car broke. We were racing for second. USAC made the right call in letting us use the softer tires. Tires are most important, even though shocks and springs and cross weights are important." Third finisher Paden, whose best prior finish in the Grand Prix was sixth, told the media, "I'm pleased to run third to two past Turkey Night champions. The only time I saw Dave was when he passed me (on lap seven)."
The fastest 20 qualifiers locked into the 100-lap feature directly. A 12-lap qualifying race, which opened the live 8:00-10:00 p.m PST telecast, started straight-up with the 21st quickest driver on the pole. Third starter Josh Wise led all the way and won the caution-free race in 3:26.73 by a straight-away (5.623 seconds) over pole starter Brian Olson. The first ten finishers advanced to the feature.
Steele, the 39th of 40 qualifiers, ran a new track record 16.556 on his second qualifying lap. He eclipsed the quick time and NTR of 16.633 (108.219 mph) set by his Tomassi teammate Leffler, the 18th qualifier in 5:15 to 5:55 time trials. Steele set the old track record-16.718 (107.668 mph) at the Turkey Night GP last year.
-tim kennedy, is-